Wednesday 11 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 05: “Judgement Day”

2015 WORD COUNT = 6583 words

I’ve been taking part in Flash Fiction contests for a little over seven months now and I can tell you that the hardest part isn’t the story. It’s challenging, sure but it’s what you want to do, it’s why you’re doing it.

No, the hardest part is at the other end of the process. The hardest part is dealing with failure.

In its current state, Flash! Friday (the one I started with) can produce almost a hundred stories a week. The chances of making the cut and receiving a mention, a podium, or even the coveted win are slim. It’s a tough few minutes when the link pops up on your twitter feed, leading you to the results page, only to scan down and find you name is absent. A range of emotions hit you then as you wonder what went wrong and why your masterpiece wasn’t given the recognition it deserved. Do the judges hate you? How were everyone else’s stories better?

It’s not wrong to feel this way. It’s a natural reaction. But what’s important is what you do next.

DON’T rant to the world about injustice.

DO congratulate the winners / judges on a job well done.

DON’T give up writing because of one bad week

DO turn that frustration into determination and get ready to try harder the next week.

Because, at the end of the day, the more contests you enter the more chances you’ll have. It’s all about the 'Rule of Alignment'. Let me explain.

There was a time when, even though I’d received several mentions and a couple of second places, I honestly thought I would never be good enough to get that win I wanted so desperately. It didn’t matter how many nice comments my stories received week after week. It didn’t matter that each second place was beaten by, in my opinion, a much more deserved winner. I just wanted that win, as if that title meant that I would finally be considered a good writer.

I never gave up though. Week in and week out I plugged away. One story on a Friday became two, became another contest and became another. And then, on a Monday night, not long after New Year, while I was sat with my wife watching TV, I got the prize I’d been chasing since June 2014.

All I wanted to do was track down the judge for that week’s contest (you are in my will, Amy Woods) and give her a big, big hug. I was only a week into 2015 and her decision to pick my story, ROLL BACK, as the winner had made my year.

Despite hitting that top step I looked back at the story I’d written and asked myself one question; why this one. I'd had gut feelings about previous entries that I truly thought would be ‘the one’ but a story about lost love and time travelling roller-skates was a little bit absurd. When I posted it, I honestly didn’t think it had a chance. And that’s when I discovered the 'Rule of Alignment'.

A judge is still a human being. Sometimes it’s easy to look up at them and bow beneath their wisdom as they hand out awards like bread to the starving. But they are just like you and me. No, scratch that; the ARE you and me. All judges have lived lives filled with books and music and films that they both love and hate. All it takes is something in your story that speaks to a judge on another level, sparks a memory, stands out to them. And you can’t write that on purpose unless you know a judge as well as you know yourself.

You see it’s not personal. It’s all about timing. You write a certain story based on a specific prompt for a single judge week in and week out. There are probably only a handful of judges who would have even considered my story that first week in January, let alone pick it as their winner. A week earlier or a week later and there would have been a different picture that took me down a different route, one that produced a different story that didn’t speak to Amy.

So it’s all about alignment. All three things coming together at the right time is what helped a little time travelling, roller-skating love story come out on top.

Which brings me to the weekend just past. That win led to a request from Rebecca, the host of Angry Hourglass, to ask me if I’d consider judging. I’ll be honest and say that my first thought was arrrgggghhhhh! I have the upmost respect for the judges in all writing contests but I do not envy them one bit. These guys give up a fair bit of time to read a whole lot of quality stories and then have to make decisions that upset about 90% of the entrants because not everyone can be a winner. I hate it when the results page of any contest I’ve entered seems to be missing my name without explanation so why would I want to be on the reverse of that?

But then I thought better of it. Part of this came from curiosity to see exactly what it was like on the other side of the curtain. Most of it, however, came from the feeling that I owed it to the community and, in particular, to every judge who had taken their precious time to read one of my stories, whether it won or lost.

So, on Monday night I sat down at my dining room table, pencil in one hand and highlighter in the other, and proceeded to read the eleven entries for that week’s Angry Hourglass contest.

I’d worried briefly about an absurd situation where none of the eleven stories spoke to me at all and wondered how I could pick a winner from a bunch of tales that just didn’t appeal to me. Or, worse still, what if all eleven stories were amazing. After all, I’d written side by side with these authors for months and regularly found myself in awe of their output.

But I couldn’t worry about that. I couldn’t cross the bridge until I got to it and so I couldn’t worry about the outcome until I read them all.

And so I read.

On the floor to my left several piles appeared. Stories were read one at a time and then the order was rearranged. One story would make me reconsider a previous one. Did I like it as much? Was it better or worse than one I’d already had pegged for the podium.

Eleven stories read (some re-read) and after much thought, I found that I had my three. And without realising it, they were already in podium order.

It took a little while longer to construct the article that would go up on the website as I’ve always struggled with articulating why I like stuff. Usually it’s a gut feeling but I couldn’t write out my favourites and follow them up with “I really liked it” three times. However, I surprised myself when, by telling my wife what it was I liked about them, I suddenly had the words I needed.

Still, while I was happy to come out the other side of the process without a loss of sanity, I do feel a twinge of regret that eight people would see the results page over the following twenty four hours and probably curse my name. To those fellow writers I offer my deepest apologies. To work hard on a story and not even be mentioned is a feeling I know well. But like I’ve already said; it’s all about ‘Alignment’. Some people may look at my final three and think ‘what was he thinking’. But each of those three hit something in me that lays just beneath the surface and comes from 35 years of my own individuality.

What I’m saying is, it’s not personal and it doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. It means one day you’ll write a story for the perfect judge and they’ll love it. So put you losing story to one side and move onto the next. Because that next one you write might just be your winner.

See you in seven.

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